ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Rochester is home to a large Hispanic community and within that community are many groundbreaking individuals marking their own path, which in turn, can make the journey for others who come after them easier. One of those people is Nydia Padilla-Rodriguez, the founder and artistic director of the Borinquen Dance Theatre.

The Borinquen Dance Theatre has been a staple for many kids growing up in Rochester for over forty years. It’s an after-school dance program that gives students a way to connect with their culture outside of the home. The theatre has seen much success over the past four decades but that success wouldn’t have been possible without the woman who started it all.

“I personally feel we should celebrate every day, not just during that month, which is what Borinquen really does. Back in 1981, we were already pushing that agenda of ‘let’s embrace diversity’ which in those days, wasn’t as popular,” Padilla-Rodriguez said.

Nydia Padilla-Rodriguez created the program that honors Puerto Rico’s original name, Borinquen, to give students a safe space where they can embrace who they are through discipline, which she says will eventually transform into freedom.

“When I was raised in Rochester being at home was like being in Puerto Rico. Soon as I walk out that door, it was like living in two worlds. So, it was very important for me to realize that even though at home, we had tradition, values, family, really coming together, working with students gave me an opportunity to share those values, tradition, integrity, quality, and how you need to see yourself more prevalent in this community,” Padilla-Rodriguez said.

However, Padilla-Rodriguez’s legacy extends far beyond the Borinquen Dance Theatre.

She started off as a dancer herself working under Garth-Fagan, an internationally acclaimed dance company based in Rochester.

“Being part of that journey was just amazing, where it opened doors for me to realize that art is like a human fabric of who we are as a people. And being an artist gave me an opportunity to allow for youth to express themselves, through dance, through poetry, through singing and music, and really learn more about our culture,” Padilla-Rodriguez said.

Padilla-Rodriguez eventually became an educator in the Rochester City School District where she worked for over 30 years, all while running her own dance program on the side.

“We did a lot of research, and the data was indicating that there were many Latino students dropping out of school. And I thought, ‘let me see if I can create a program that would focus on education, but using the arts as a vehicle to kind of pull those resources together,’” Padilla-Rodriguez said. “And now 41 years, it’s been amazing when I have students coming back to me, alumni thanking me for really having that experience of being exposed not only to traveling and performing, but also the discipline in how they were able to transfer that discipline to their everyday living,” Padilla-Rodriguez said.

Over 40 years later, the dance theatre is still going strong with successful alumni to show for it, some of which may not be here today without Nydia.

“This is not about me. This is about our youth in the need for programs that nurture our youth that believe in our youth that don’t give up on our youth,” Padilla-Rodriguez said.

Padilla-Rodriguez was also recognized as Senator Samra Brouk’s 2022 Woman of Distinction.